Chamber: Developing efforts pay off

Chamber: Developing efforts pay off

Phil Castle, The Business Times

C.J. Rhyne, left, director of business retention and expansion at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, and Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive office of the chamber, work on a variety of programs and efforts they say promote economic development the Grand Valley. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
C.J. Rhyne, left, director of business retention and expansion at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, and Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive office of the chamber, work on a variety of programs and efforts they say promote economic development the Grand Valley. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

C.J. Rhyne has worked for more than four years to promote economic development in the Grand Valley and discovered in the process one thing can and often does lead to another.

Rhyne cites as an example how demand for a facility to transfer shipping containers and other freight between rail cars and trucks led to the opening of a transloading business. He expects that business in turn will help existing companies save time and money as well as attract new companies to the area.

As director of business retention and expansion at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, Rhyne tries to draw attention to what he considers an important effort that’s resulted in improving conditions. “I would definitely say we’re on an upward trajectory.”

That’s the whole point, in fact, behind the chamber observance of National Economic Development Week — an annual event scheduled this year for May 6 to 11.

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, says a healthy community depends on a healthy business community. “We want to build awareness of how important economic development and economic developers are to a community.”

The International Economic Development Council, a membership organization for economic development professionals, created National Economic Development Week in 2016. The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has led the local observance each year and won awards from the council each year for its efforts.

This year, the observance was scheduled to include government proclamations and the annual chamber State of the Valley luncheon and panel discussion on the outlook for the Grand Valley.

The National Economic Development Week observance also was scheduled to include a grand opening event for Rocky Mountain Rail & Storage, the new transloading facility in Grand Junction. Located at 2403 Riverside Parkway, the facility can  transfer shipping containers and other freight between rail cars and trucks. The site also offers storage.

Rhyne praised the Girardi family — which also operates a towing and hauling business — for opening the facility.

The transloading facility was the result of concerns Rhyne said he’s heard from local business owners over the years about the lack of such a facility. Some of the owners complained shipments they’ve ordered go by on trains and then they have to wait for the shipments to come back from Denver on trucks. The shipments can be delayed by a shortage of available trucks, weather and other factors.

The transloading facility will help businesses not only in the Grand Valley, but also Western Colorado, save time and money, Rhyne says.

Schwenke agrees. “That’s been a need we’ve heard about decades.”

Moreover, the facility will help in recruiting additional companies to the area, she says. “That is going to be a major asset, another major tool for our tool box.”

Meanwhile, work continues for the chamber on other economic developments efforts, including establishing a foreign trade zone.

A federal program allows for the establishment of secure areas within the United States that are considered outside of U.S. Customs territory for tariff purposes. Businesses are allowed to import goods without paying a duty until those goods leave the zone and enter U.S. commerce. When imported materials and components are used to make finished products, duties can be assessed at what’s often a lower rate applied to those products. When merchandise is exported from the zone, no duties are assessed.

Schwenke says there’s interest among regional businesses in establishing a zone and taking advantage of reduced tariffs and paperwork and in turn lower costs.

Schwenke says an application has been submitted to the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish a zone. Work also has proceeded on bringing a federal customs officer to the Grand Junction Regional Airport to work with businesses using the zone.

Work force development remains another ongoing effort in which the chamber is involved, Schwenke says. “Work force is a big area of focus for us.”

A partnership with CareerWise Colorado has resulted in a growing number of apprentices working at local companies, Schwenke says. The chamber also coordinates the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a program which turns middle and high school students into the chief executive officers of their startup ventures.

Advocacy on behalf of local companies constitutes yet another chamber function that promotes a more conducive business environment and, in turn, economic development, Schwenke says. The chamber lobbies at the local, state and federal levels.

The chamber joined Mesa County in a lawsuit challenging the legality of a fee the Grand Valley Drainage District imposed on commercial and residential property owners in the district to fund projects to control stormwater runoff. A judge ruled the fee was actually a tax that exceeded state constitutional limits. The district began refunding the fees in April.

Rhyne regularly meets with business owners to identify the issues and challenges they face and try to help them. “Our companies know what they’re facing. They’re on the front lines every day.”

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce hardly works alone, though, Schwenke says. “Economic development in this community is a team sport.”

The chamber works closely with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, Business Incubator Center, Mesa County Workforce Center and local government entities, among others, she says.

Rhyne says that kind of cooperation is unusual. “It’s definitely an anomaly in the industry.”

The result, Rhyne and Schwenke say, has been improving conditions that’s promoted the growth of existing businesses and jobs as well as lured new businesses.

While the uncertainty associated with recent state legislation and national policies presents a headwind to further growth, Schwenke says there are tailwinds as well, including the growth of Colorado Mesa University and local manufacturing.

That’s not to mention the growing recognition of the Grand Valley as an attractive place in which to work and live, she says. “We’re a bit more known in the state as a potential expansion location.”